Recently, a 36-year-old woman in Pune was allegedly raped by a 60-year-old self-proclaimed godman on the pretext of performing rituals to cure the physical disability of his son. Some time ago, a self-styled godman from Tamil Nadu found himself behind bars for sexually abusing young girls. And to think the girls looked up to him as a father figure and never had any inkling about his sinister design. Take the case of Santhosh Madhavan alias Swami Amrita Chaitanya who, a few years ago, was charged with the rapes of three minor girls and a 22-year-old woman, financial fraud, and possession of narcotics. A reality show actress filed an FIR against a controversial godwoman for sexual harassment.
It is clear that these gurus and con men are playing ducks and drakes with the gullible masses. These so distant con men have drifted off course and lost their moral compass so badly, that it was always going to come to a head. But despite all that, these godmen, with quicksilver charm, permeate the subcutaneous lives of their devotees and become the magnetic draw in the spiritual marketplace among the rich, the middle classes, and the hoi polloi.
These wily and manipulative godmen know very well that, most of us, at times, find the going tough in life and experience mental stress, depression, and sundry other problems. The listeners soak up the half-baked gyan that darts through their pravachan and feel impressed. The gurus assure them that their souls would swim in ineffable happiness and his blessings would guide them through the labyrinth of life like Ariadne’s thread. The devotees find themselves slowly being sucked into the slipstream of their lives. Preaching, for these babas, is like a Columbus’ egg: an easy task once you know the trick. They are great at playing the collective psyche and hand out miracles to influence us.
One can see these babas milking their devotees for every last drop of applause. No wonder, the human brain is genetically programmed to believe in esoteric and religious mumbo-jumbo. The mesmerised devotees are reduced to human automata, waiting like sheep to be driven. It has been seen that most of these unlettered devotees, including women, readily repose their faith in godmen by agreeing to do their bidding, at the expense of rationality and sound judgment.
These self-styled spiritual gurus are greasy-pole climbers. They have palatial ashrams spread over different cities and own properties valued in crores. These high-profile swamis enjoy the material side of life, the coral, scents, and amber. They hobnob with the high and mighty, attending marriages and other social functions of business tycoons, netas, and abhinetas. Politicians of all stripes throw their weight behind these babas as the latter can tilt the political fortunes of a party by asking their devotees to vote for a certain political outfit. In return, these spiritual gurus are assured of protection from politicians so that they can carry out their nefarious activities without any fear of the law.
Before their arrest, Baba Ram Rahim and Asaram Bapu managed to pull the wool over their devotees’ eyes for decades. Both these popular spiritual gurus not only enjoyed massive political patronage but also drew a huge following. They lived a life of dissipation and got away with so much dishonesty for as long as they did. It can be attributed to the thriving nexus between political power and religious establishments.
When Rajkumar Hirani, in his movie, PK (2014) showed that not everything connected with the world of godmen and swamis is transparent and above board, all hell broke loose. There was a big kerfuffle as people took umbrage at the negative portrayal of religious godmen in the movie who came across as phony-baloney. The movie showed how some self-styled spiritual gurus exploit superstition and resort to fraud to run rings around people. The brain wants to believe in fiddlesticks. In the movie, Aamir Khan plays an alien who comes to visit the earth and falls victim to human rapacity. The algorithms in his brain jitter, as he tries to reconcile his mental model of these babas with reality. He discovers that most godmen use religions to do business and feather their own nests.
In Satyajit Ray’s Bengali movie Joi Baba Felunath (1979), a local godman in Banaras, who goes by the name of Machhli Baba, is depicted as a fraud, who is in cahoots with a wealthy Marwari businessman and has set his eyes on a rare and priceless Ganesh statue.
However, it’s a bit unfair to tar all spiritual gurus with the same brush. There are exceptions to this tribe of deceitful godmen as well. The late Bhaiyyu Maharaj was one of them. A few years ago, the chief minister of a state dangled a carrot of a party post in front of him which he strictly turned down. Bhaiyyu Ji derived happiness from his philanthropic activities like adopting villages and reviving water bodies. His death even today remains steeped in mystery.
Most of our self-proclaimed babas and swamis are deviating from the straight and narrow, and playing their devotees false who mostly live up, down, and sideways to their preaching. They have almost failed to keep their moral compass well-calibrated. It is high time we saw through their knavery and hypocrisy and see them for what they really are --- rank opportunists, impostors, and hedonists. There is a dire need for cerebral emancipation among believers.
(The writer is a Delhi-based journalist)